Ah preseason polls—those dainty morsels that we feast on like pizza and wings.
After the summer months drift into fall, basketball fans look forward to Midnight Madness’ and the eventual tipoff of a new season.
Preseason polls whet the appetite of many a college hoops fan—providing an opportunity for folks to debate the prognostications.
But preseason polls are just that—preseason. They are not a real indicator of any true accomplishment.
Frequent is the club that becomes a victim of those rankings and buys into the hype.
UCLA and Notre Dame with their recent struggles might fall into this category. Maybe Memphis is in the top 25 based solely upon last season’s accomplishment.
The jury is still out on those teams.
But one team has pretty much sealed their verdict.
With yet another in a series of missteps, the Tennessee Volunteers have proven they are this season’s best example of an overrated team.
On the surface, Saturday night’s two-point loss to intra-state rival, Memphis, appears like a moral victory.
After all, Memphis was ranked No. 24 and Josh Tabb missed a shot at the buzzer. It is noteworthy that Tabb’s shot was a three-pointer that would have won the game.
Below the surface the game was another in a series of lackluster performances by the men in the creamsicle jerseys.
Tennessee began the season 14th in the AP poll and 13th in the ESPN/Coaches Poll. The Vols even made their way to eighth on both charts before reality set in.
Pundits cited Tennessee’s commitment to a defense that put 94 feet of pressure on opponents for 40 minutes. Further, Pearl was seen as the conductor of a half-court offense capable of breaking down tired opponents.
Tennessee’s first loss of the season to Gonzaga in the finals of the Old Spice Classic was acceptable if not expected. The Bulldogs were ranked higher, and the game was closer than the nine-point deficit.
But seeds of a problem began sprouting when Gonzaga dropped over 50 percent of their trifecta attempts in an 83-74 victory.
The problems continued two weeks later when the Vols traveled north to Philly. In front of a raucous crowd on the campus of Temple University, Bruce Pearl and gang received a Christmas present they would have rather returned.
Dionte Christmas went 7-for-14 from long range, and the unranked Owls defeated Tennessee 88-72.
The loss could have been rationalized. The Vols were sluggish. They had only played one game in the previous 14 days—an uncompetitive affair with UNC-Asheville. Usual starters, Wayne Chism and Scotty Hopson, were disciplined for a departure from team rules and did not start. Perhaps that affected the team’s psyche.
Regardless, Christmas roamed the three-point area with little if any resistance.
Tennessee rebounded three days later and knocked off Marquette, 80-68.
All was well in Knoxville. Or at least so it appeared.
Four days later, on December 20, the Vols barely avoided another upset—this time at home—when the Belmont Bruins missed a late jumper and pair of free throws. The Bruins shot over 40 percent from the arc.
Two weeks later Tennessee fell to Kansas, 85-92. The Jayhawks made 7-of-16 from long range.
The tenacious Volunteer defense suddenly seemed vulnerable.
The offense? A stale flex set that lacked a true scoring threat.
Still many expected the Vols to regroup; that the losses would serve notice to a team that needed refocusing. Their weaknesses would bring together the team and get them ready for a March.
Four days later Gonzaga went into Knoxville and over came a double-digit deficit and won in overtime, 89-79.
Yeah you guessed it—the Zags shot 47 percent from long range.
Surely SEC play would inspire the men in creamsicle garb.
Any semblance of inspiration was buried in an avalanche of threes by Jodie Meeks, who broke a school record by hanging 54 on the scoreboard as Kentucky beat the Vols, 90-72. Meeks shot 10-for-15 from the arc. The Wildcats made 67 percent of their three-pointers.
Since then Tennessee downed South Carolina 82-79 and topped Vanderbilt 76-63.
Saturday’s game with Memphis provided the Vols an opportunity to rid themselves of their early-season struggles. It was a chance to show everyone Tennessee could still be the class of the SEC.
Instead the Vols showed they are victims of potential. That they are this season’s example of being overrated.